How Not to Be a Big Deal

It’s weird being a writer. The imp that makes you write doesn’t square with the commercial market. Note: the wastebasket’s on the desk because my dog will run in and snatch used tissues out of the trash and eat them if it’s on the floor. This photo exemplifies the Dali painting of my life: a surrealistic juxtaposition of objects. (Photo courtesy of Barb, my talented photographer wife.)


God speaks to us less through ego aggrandizement than ego deflation. Allow me to illustrate with a little tale from the workplace.

I was on the ladder attached to my stocking cart and, instead of using my TC-70 scanner to beep items on the top shelf, the stocking shelf, of row 7 (the coffee and peanut butter aisle), I reached into my pocket for my Android and began to text an old friend.

“So you’re top stocking using your cell phone now?”

The voice below I could not identify right away. I figured it was a guy I worked with, not a guy – the guy – I worked for. I was still staring at my handheld. “Ah I got this personal thing, then I’ll get right off.”

“Well if you have to do that, why don’t you get off the floor.” The voice was brusque.

I looked down. On the floor was the store’s top executive, the man who runs the store, who has been good to me, fair and approachable.

I apologized, red faced. As he walked away, I scrambled to shut the phone. Deeply ashamed, I went back to the job Walmart was paying me for. During the coronavirus scare he’s had enough on his plate.

I went home for lunch and confessed the incident to Barb, who agreed it wasn’t the end of the world. She told me a boss had issued a similar reprimand to her when she worked customer service at Dillard’s.

I worked my ass off the second half of the day to feel better about myself.

Humblings straighten us out. We need them.

I am fresh from writing an angsty mini memoir. I showed it to a friend in Cleveland. My older sister, a writer, had liked some of the writing but said it could be better. Had she been damning it with faint praise?

One can be a good writer but not have a story anybody wants.

That’s what I’m sensing as I await the reaction from this second reader. Roger’s had the lurid manuscript about a month. He says he loves my writing. I think he does. And he never pulls his punches.

But I’m afraid he doesn’t like this. I think that what I wrote – an exegesis on the most humiliating, even traumatizing, moments in my life – fell so flat for him he opted to do nothing rather than hurt my feelings.

One thinks when one writes such a thing that, after the recitation of all that was feckless and cowardly in one’s life, the end product will be a hero, cleansed by the action of the telling. People will congratulate the writer for his bravery, his unflinching ability to face up. If I was a wimp and a dupe decade by degrading decade, after this hard-bitten admission I’d emerge a veritable Mike Ditka of confessional literature.

This turns out not to be the case. If I turned into anybody it’s Gilbert Gottfried.

I’ve come to rue I wrote the thing almost as much as I rue the experiences it chronicles.

I have worked through the feelings, been “feeling” the silence, taking it to heart, using it to open up my intuition. I figured Roger sees me as a friend. He looks up to me for my humor, grit, and resiliency. This memoir may have asked him to see me in a light he didn’t want to see me in.

Or maybe it just flat bored him. Which is worse.

I still have a clean manuscript of it in my drawer. All I’ve got to do now is dump it in the garbage and the whole thing never happened. I used to draw porn pictures. When Barb was out I’d go to the garage, where we had a metal garbage barrel, and burn them. Thus did I exorcise what was shameful. It’d be like that.

All this seems the truth, but something happened that is part of the circular twist I always fall into, that made me question my intuition. Last night I was in my easy chair reading and feeling peaceful. Just as I was starting to nod off and be ready for bed, I had the thought maybe the book was every bit as good as I’d told myself, Roger just didn’t have time, he was after all in his workaholic, high-stress world, a divorce attorney with bigger problems than how to help Bobby parse his rumination on the banal ordeals of his life.

I woke up this morning feeling I didn’t know what was to be made of the book, but I was better off leaning on the side of the first supposition (Roger hated it) than the second (I had no evidence of his reaction, so who knows?).

I’m better off battling a mild depression than getting my hopes up.

I guess part of me up on that cart felt I was too good to be some guy pushing a cart at Walmart.

I am a writer! A man of intellect, of culture, of the arts!

Hell, maybe I am.

In AA meetings – put on hold during the coronavirus scare – we talk about learning to live life on life’s terms. I’m still working on that.

You know what I like about hiking with Rosa in the woods? I’m where my feet are, not where my head’s at. White Spar a few weeks ago. Barb said use this one because I’m smiling, even though it’s a goofy selfie smile.

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